This article is about support

Through all the articles on this blog I’ve attempted to share the process I’ve taken to free myself from the suffering associated with my dad’s death from suicide when I was 15.

In doing so, many people have reached out to me. People have shared some of the most personal parts of themselves, some for the very first time. I feel honoured that they would choose to share their life with me and ask for support. It helps give my life purpose and makes spending hours and hours writing things and making little videos so worthwhile.

People are only sharing their stories with me or asking for support because I asked for help and support in overcoming my own dark times in the first place.

This website in general and particularly this article are about support and, I guess, the realisation that no one has to suffer alone through adversity. There is always someone who’s felt or is feeling what you are feeling. I made this website to try to articulate this fact and in turn support anyone who’s interested in spending a small portion of their day reading my ramblings.

Whether you are bereaved through suicide, trying to overcome a negative habit, struggling to connect with a loved-one, wondering if there’s more to life than what you already have, or simply trying to grow as a person and improve your happiness… I hope you can find something here that you can relate or compare to and that it might provide a little bit of SUPPORT, making your journey slightly smoother.

This article is about support.

It’s about empathy and how I learnt what the word means to me in real life. It’s about relationships and an example of an amazing one. It’s about habits and the awareness that straight up transcends all of these things and more.

This article is not about smoking cigarettes.

Brendan McDonnellMy lady and I – Torino (Turin), Italy 2015

I’d been living in Malta (a 20x40km limestone rock in the Mediterranean Sea) for one year and I needed a break so I reached out to my second-cousins in Torino, Italy. I went to stay with them for a week and my girlfriend came over for a few days too.

Despite my white, freckly skin… Yes… I’m part wog and I hold an Italian Citizenship.

I’m happy I was able to capture part of my experience in Italy on video. It was pretty amazing. Hopefully you were patient enough to see the good bits…

My beautiful cousins facilitated multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences that not only allowed me to see parts of myself that would have otherwise been unknown, but helped make my relationships stronger.

Brendan McDonnellMarina, Francesco and I – February, 2014 at the Basilica di Superga in Torino, Italy

The first time I met my cousins, Marina and Francesco, was in Australia when I was about thirteen years old. I was too much of a shy, introverted freak to speak to them though so I never actually got to ‘meet’ them. The first time I got to know them was in February of last year. I was working in the far north of Italy at a ‘Spiritual Seminar Centre’ which overlooked Lago d’Orta (the smallest of Italy’s Alpine Lakes). Well, I was actually a slave to a cult-like organisation. I did manual labour and mundane tasks in return for chick peas and accommodation in a medieval guest house. But that’s another story…

During my stay with the cult I decided to visit my cousins for the first time solo. Where I was working was only a few hours away from where they live. It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, so I stole a big wheel of cheese from the cult’s cool room as a gift and caught a train to Torino.

Brendan McDonnellMy work mates and I on my 22nd birthday at the top of a hill looking over Lake Orta – Pettenasco, Italy 2014 (Photo by the great Cass Huang)

It was an eye-opening experience. My cousin’s English skills were basic and I didn’t exactly know what I was doing at that point in my life. All I knew was that I needed to get away from my homeland and I was telling everyone that I was searching for ‘alternative avenues for self-expression’. In the end I guess that’s exactly what I was doing and I must have been searching in the right places because I think my search was pretty successful… Here I am, ‘Alternatively expressing myself’.

Anyway, my cousins knew very little about me, what had happened in my family or what I was doing in Italy. I did my best to fill them in. Because we were unable to understand each other as much as we’d have liked to verbally, I told them my story with pictures. Surprisingly, it was relatively clear communication. The moment I told them that I was the one to find my dad’s dead body after he died from suicide – by drawing a picture of it – I think what I was doing on the other side of the world became a lot clearer to them.

Brendan McDonnellPictures I drew on a page of my journal to tell my cousins my story.

A year later, in late March of this year, like I said, I reached out to my cousins again. Reaching out to them allowed me to see and experience a piece of myself that would have otherwise been unknown – part of my heritage, my blood. They gave me the opportunity to see where my grandfather came from. I got to go to his family home in a tiny, regional village in far-northern Italy and sit on his bed in his bedroom that had been waiting for him since he left and never returned over 60 years ago.

In Australia the only Italian things I knew were my mum’s hook-shaped nose and Nanna’s chicken cacciatore.

Brendan McDonnellThe village of Grugliasco where my cousins live. 20 minutes from Torino city centre

It was an experience I’ll never forget. But after looking at my time in Italy as a whole I realised how much I actually learnt. Obviously this article is about more than sharing this experience. I want to show the old saying: ‘Ask and you will receive’… Or something like that.

I was starting to lose my mind via over-analysing the negative aspects of the society and culture of the small island I’ve been living on. I needed help to break free and refresh my mind.

I asked my cousins and I received help. They invited me to stay with them and in turn I had some amazing experiences, refreshed my mind and was able to finish making this website when I returned to my island home.

Brendan McDonnellAll I want to do is drink coffee, kick people and relax on the slippery dip – Grugliasco, Italy 2015

Now, obviously I know people who are lazy and look for handouts. But what I find a lot more interesting, on the other end of the spectrum, are those of us who are afraid of asking for help. I’m not sure if it has to do with ego or the fear of looking weak or something else… But when I started thinking about it I began seeing it everywhere.

I think that at times we are our own worst enemies.

Why suffer alone if you can acknowledge this suffering and simply ask for help?

I’ve only recently started asking for help as a mature person. And only since I started asking have others begun asking me. I’ve realised that a lot of the time, in honestly and sincerely asking for help you are helping others because helping others can add purpose to our lives and make us the happiest we’ve ever been.

I experienced one of the happiest moments in my life so far while in Torino. It was not experiencing where my grandfather came from or eating proper Italian spag bog. It was when my girlfriend chose to ask me for help for the first time.

Sounds stupid… But I’ll do my best to articulate what it meant to me using one of my journal entries from the time.

Brendan McDonnellSteph, Marina & Francesco in the Torino CBD

Journal entry – Thursday 02/04/15 11:40pm. Marina & Francesco’s kitchen, Grugliasco, Italy.

Went to Vaglio Serra today, the little village where my Pop grew up. He left Italy in the 1950’s at age nineteen and never returned. In going, I sort of felt like I was doing some sort of justice…

It’s like one of the final pieces of the puzzle in my whole Travel-Find-Yourself-Saga. I’m connecting with my roots and documenting it for my family who aren’t lucky enough to do what I’m doing for themselves.

Brendan McDonnellEntering Vaglio Serra, Italy – The village where my grandfather grew up

I went with Gino, my Pop’s nephew (my second-cousin). He doesn’t speak English haha. The sun was shining and I drank way too much Italian coffee. I sat on Pop’s bed in his bedroom in the house where he grew up. It’s been waiting there since he left and never returned over 60 years ago. It was like ticking something off my bucket list.

I feel one step closer to being content with returning to Australia.

Days like this you remember.

Brendan McDonnellMy pop’s beautiful old bed

Brendan McDonnellMy pop’s room just as it’s been waiting for him for over 60 years

Spending a whole day with a long lost relative who can’t speak my language was very interesting too. I feel as though I’m actually learning how to connect with people. I think I’ve learnt what empathy is and how to empathise which seems to allow for a better understanding of others. After spending a day with my cousin Gino I felt like I’d known him my whole life. It was beautiful.

Brendan McDonnellThe view from the first floor of the house where my Pop grew up – Vaglio Serra, Italy 2015

I’ve started believing that things happen for a reason… Or more so that my life is a process. Well, at the very least I understand that overcoming my dad’s death from suicide can be broken down into a process.

My whole life I’ve been the somewhat high-achieving obnoxious kid telling everyone “don’t do this”, “don’t do that” but it never really helped anyone… The only way I’ve ever really helped anyone so far is through leading by example and constantly working to grow mentally, physically and spiritually despite some major setbacks in my life.

I have realised that the only way I’m going to be able to help others on different levels is through empathising with them. Through considering their suffering, taking it on board and supporting others – instead of saying “don’t”. Since realising this I’ve already been far more helpful in facilitating change.

As my perspectives recently began shifting my relationship with my girlfriend has started becoming a lot closer. I can share things with her better, our thoughts about reality are lining up and we seem to be letting go of other forces in our lives and giving ourselves to one another.

Brendan McDonnellWining and dining my lady in Piazza Vittorio – Torino, Italy

My girlfriend smokes (smoked) cigarettes. I don’t like it, she doesn’t like it. No one likes it. She knows I don’t like it, but she isn’t able to stop it.

I’ve been telling her how shit smoking is, how much I hate it, how her hair smells and even walking away when she’d light one. I’d basically say “don’t” in every way I could without verbalising it.

None of these things ever helped her quit though. I probably sounded more like a military drill sergeant than a boyfriend. Everyone knows that inhaling the smoke from a burning stick of dried up shit will inevitably kill you. But no one wants to hear what they already know…

When I came to this conclusion, the first thing I told my girlfriend – ever so clearly and in a quiet, positive tone that seems to pass through filters in the mind and the ego – that “I am here for you and I want to help you quit smoking”.

That’s all.

And this afternoon she messaged me from Malta and told me that she wants my help. It is the first time she’s ever asked anything from me and it has made me very happy.

Brendan McDonnellGrugliasco, Italy 2015

I probably wouldn’t have had these realisations or came to this conclusion if I didn’t go to stay with my cousins, Marina and Francesco. They are like an embodiment of the teachings you read on patience and tolerance in self-help books… They are patient with one another, diffuse disagreements using humour, live simply, share everything and support one another. Basically, they actively cultivate the antidotes to anger and hatred in the moment by practicing patience and tolerance. It is very beautiful to watch.

For me this is one of the hardest things to achieve. Spending time with them got me thinking and helped me make these realisations. I aspire to become as patient, tolerant and selfless as they are and have a relationship as strong as theirs with my girlfriend one day.

I also feel like I’ve known them my entire life.

I wish I had millions of dollars to throw at them while they ride horses on a beach somewhere to better express my gratitude.

Brendan McDonnellMy beautiful cousin Marina in front of the Mole Antonelliana – Tornio, Italy 2015

Anyway… Earlier today I experienced something else that I think further articulates what I’ve already been saying.

My cousin Gino who took me to my Pop’s home in Vaglio Serra is suffering from emphysema. He is unwell but still consumed by nicotine. It is sad to see. Regardless, he is a very kind man with a heart of 24-carat gold. Obviously I feel sad for his lung sickness and the constant coughing. But the reason I really I feel sad is because a good man’s life is controlled by these little sticks I previously referred to. He has lost control over his mind and this habit is literally killing him.

Today I was in the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen taking a video of the sunshine on the rolling hills with legit bell towers and loads of Jesus crosses etc. At that moment I tried to actively practice mindfulness or consciousness or whatever you call it – to be present. I tried focusing on my breath alone (like in some guided meditations) to centre myself and enjoy the present moment fully.

Only… I was hungry.

Yes, I looked at my breath but I couldn’t look away from my stomach! I’m not myself when I’m hungry… The snickers commercial was right!

I cannot imagine what it’s like for people who have a nicotine addiction or any addiction full stop. How can you ever truly be present and at peace if there’s a little craving poking and prodding at you constantly?

This helped me to give meaning to the word empathy and realise further why we must empathise with and support people rather than telling them “don’t”. To some degree, I think it also showed me a reason why you will probably never truly realise your greatness or become the best version of yourself if you chose to use drugs… You probably won’t even get to know who you actually are!

End of entry

Brendan McDonnellSunshine on the rolling hills with legit bell towers and loads of Jesus crosses etc – Vaglio Serra, Italy 2015

I think that my experiences show what is missing from the equation that is overcoming negative habits or tough times. Unless you’re somewhat of a superhero, the only way you will overcome the darkest of times or the highest of hurdles is with support.

My girlfriend asked me for support and it made me very happy. I stopped telling her “don’t” and did my best to start supporting her. She gave me this privilege and in turn gave my life more of a sense of purpose.

She quit smoking immediately after and has been a non-smoker for some 6 months.

She had been smoking since she was 15 years old.

I am not saying that I am an all-supporting-super-hero. I didn’t quit smoking for my girlfriend; I just stood by her. And I understand that it takes energy to support others – some a lot more than others. Many people don’t even want to be supported, and some are insupportable. But I firmly believe it is a key. A lot of the time it’s the missing link that’s going to mean success or failure.

Brendan McDonnellSunrise on the way to the airport – Steph returning to Malta

I guess I’ll never know why my Pop never returned to Italy… But maybe it had something to do with a lack of support or his inability to ask for it…

I said before that overcoming my dad’s death from suicide can be broken down into a process.

And it started when I decided to go see a psychologist and asked for help with my problems. I couldn’t overcome my dad’s death alone. I needed support!

Since then, things have snowballed really.

If I never went to the psychologist and asked for help to overcome the problems associated with my father’s death from suicide I wouldn’t have overcome or understood much at all.

I wouldn’t have made this blog to share what I’ve overcome and understood.

Similarly, if I never had have reached out to my cousins when I needed help. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see where my grandfather came from. I never would have unlocked a deeper understanding of empathy and compassion and what they mean in real life. My girlfriend never would have asked me to help her. Our relationship wouldn’t have gotten stronger. She’d still be smoking and resenting me for not liking smoking.

And I wouldn’t be writing this article…

Brendan McDonnellMy great grandfather Giovanni Negro – Vaglio Serra, Italy 2015

So, if you need help, ASK.

Obviously you can’t ask for a Ferrari or someone to rescue you from life’s troubles if you aren’t willing to put in work yourself. But if you can’t work something out or you’re struggling, ask with honesty and sincerity in an appropriate tone of voice and I’m sure you will receive. And it’s likely that you’ll help the person you ask…

Help others help you when you’re struggling by asking for help. You may make someone the happiest they’ve ever been.

Complete strangers sharing the deepest parts of themselves with me is the most respectful thing I’ve ever experienced. And although at times it’s tough to take some of the stuff they share on-board, it helps give purpose to my life which makes me happy.

And like I said, they are only asking me because I’ve understood a couple of things because I asked for help in understanding them in the first place!

I hope to make myself a better person and do more to support the people I care about in future.

Brendan McDonnellHere’s what I woke up to every morning in Italy

P.S.

Whether you are bereaved through suicide, trying to overcome a negative habit, struggling to connect with a loved-one, wondering if there’s more to life than what you already have, or simply trying to grow as a person and improve your happiness… I hope you can find something here that you can relate or compare to and that it might provide a little bit of SUPPORT – and make your journey slightly smoother.

No one should have to suffer alone.

Peace!

Brendan McDonnellProbably one of the best Cafe signs in the world – Torino (Turin), Italy 2015

1 Comment. Leave a comment

Comments

  1. Cecelia
    September 11, 2015

    Hey Brendan and Stephanie. I’m really looking forward to giving you both a big hug! Sharing aspects of your relationship on a global platform really is admirable. I think most people are fearful of letting others in as they may feel that they may be subject to judgement. We all have different experiences and challenges in life but there is always a connection to one another too. We make mistakes. In realising that to empathise with others is so much more valuable we can then feel that we don’t need to take others problems on but rather lighten the load for others ( so to speak)…and feel good that we are being supportive. Asking for help isnt always easy but the more we do the more practise we have to pay it forward which is what you are doing Bren. The qualities of patience and tolerance that you observed in your cousins whilst spending time with them in Italy are that of your mother. And….of you…its in your blood, you just had to find it…a long way from your birth home but ironically in another home…Italy! And in your search found Stephanie. Thank Goodness! Goodness by the way is within. I must add though that it really is sad that Dad wasn’t truly able to ask for help. However, nothing can change what happened…and the beautiful thing is that we can learn to appreciate each other and empathise with each other. I love your video…I think you are on to something there Bren! Film maker, writer extraordinaire. I can feel your passion for music and family…and I’ll say it again, you’re so much like your Dad!
    Love Always

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